Fans of Championship and League 1 clubs won’t like what I’m about to say.
But I really believe the best way of safeguarding the future of the game below Super League is to cancel the 2021 Championship season now and concentrate on returning with a bang in 2022.
I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and there are a few factors to consider.
Given where we are with the pandemic, we’ve already put the start of Super League back from the original proposal of March 11 to March 25. But I think we have to go further than that.
Having had a good look at the calendar, I originally picked April 15.
But with the current alarming Covid situation and being realistic about when the vaccination programme might start to get us closer to where we want to be, I think we have to look at May 6.
I would go for a 20-game league season, with the majority of the rounds spread over each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, therefore giving Sky the opportunity to maximise their coverage, running through to September 16-19.
That would be followed by a six-team play-off series like we had last year, with the Grand Final on October 9.
It would provide a necessary gap before the start of the World Cup on October 23, and while I have my doubts over whether the tournament will go ahead this year, that’s still the key date we have to work towards.
I would drop Magic Weekend for the year, but stage a shortened version of the Challenge Cup, because we also have the BBC broadcast deal to consider and we wouldn’t want to shelve such an historic competition in any case. We also need to create an opportunity for the home nations to fit in a World Cup warm-up international.
Taking into account the Challenge Cup and an international date, as well as allowing for the potential for games being postponed due to Covid outbreaks, because as much as we would like it to, the virus won’t disappear overnight, there would have to be a few midweek games.
But I stress a few, because it’s important to try to avoid a repeat of last season, when we attempted to squeeze in too many, and ended up with a hotchpotch of a fixture list and a string of meaningless matches.
It should be about quality, not quantity.
People might say my Super League schedule doesn’t allow for a full set of home and away games against every other side. But in recent ‘normal’ times, we’ve had Magic Weekend and loop fixtures, and therefore an imbalance in the fixture list.
And who is to say we won’t have to at least start the season using one venue for multiple matches, like we did last year, so fixtures aren’t necessarily ‘home’ or ‘away’ in any case.
These are unprecedented times, and we must be flexible and adaptable.
Of course, we still don’t know when we’ll have crowds back in grounds, and I’ve read quotes from government officials about the World Cup potentially being the first UK event back in front of full venues.
We all understand the Championship and League I isn’t financially viable without some kind of crowd, but we still have no idea when the fans will be back in sufficient numbers, and we can’t afford the kind of stop-start scenario seen at some levels of football.
Instead, Championship and League 1 clubs should work towards agreeing their own TV deal and staging a well-promoted relaunch in 2022.
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.